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Common Humanity
with Dana Belletiere, LICSW, MSED

Be On Purpose

Therapy Is My Calling, But Writing Is Nurturing My Soul


 

Like many of my colleagues that feel deeply connected to the practice of psychotherapy, I believe that I was built for this kind of work. When in the therapy room, I feel capable, confident, and clear - this is what I have always done; this is what I do.  When I attend trainings on methods and ideas that spark my interest, I feel more excited than anytime else in my life, ever. Psychotherapy is my thing. I love it and I’m good at it. 



Be On Purpose

Is “Powering Through It” Really A Good Thing?


 

I recently received a text citing a friend doing something that was hard for him, and struggling with it. “It’s ok, though,” said the text, “he’s powering through it.” 

“Blech,” I thought to myself. Then I typed “Is that really actually good, though?".  And then I deleted it, because nobody was asking for my opinion and it wasn’t time to start a whole big thing over text. And now I’m writing a blog post about it. So here it is:

I hate the term “powering through.” It’s right up there with “snowflake” and “get over it” as my least favorite unhelpful things to say to or about someone. And looking around the therapy world, people seem to be “powering through” stuff left and right. Am I missing something about how great this supposedly is? 

Here’s why I think we should reconsider the achievement that is “powering through it”:


Communication

As We Move Through Life, Can We Really Have It All?


 

There is a unique grief to the end of my thirties. 

In many ways, this decade has been liberating and exciting. Like many people of my generation, I’ve finally hit a stride in my career that includes feeling both competent and skilled and fairly compensated for my work. I live in a home with someone I love that is much more than adequate (both the home and the human, really). I feed myself things that I like, and I wear things that I like, and I’m generally able to afford all of these things. It is not lost on me that these are all extravagant privileges for which I have immense gratitude. 


Be On Purpose

Shout Yourself Out Loud.


 

I have a new favorite show. It’s called Modern Love, it’s on Amazon, and it’s based on the Modern Love column from the New York Times. It’s moving and it’s lovely.

In one episode, Anne Hathaway plays a woman with bipolar disorder navigating relationships and work as best she can while swinging between her extreme mood states. As she loses a potential dating prospect and her job, she discusses how she’s hidden her mental illness throughout her life as a means of benefitting from the brilliance of her highs, while concealing her lows. This results in a life punctuated by successes, but ultimately defined by the failure to sustain any of them, including human relationships. Realizing this, and desperate to be known, she finally divulges her bipolar diagnosis to a coworker, who assures her that she would still like to pursue a friendship with her. Anne’s character says, “It’s like an elephant that’s been standing on top of me just took one foot off of my chest.” 

That sounds about right to me. 


Mental Health

Gardening Is Like Self-Work (And I’m Not The Best At It).


I kill all things green. This is my truth around gardening and, though I’m deeply unhappy about it, it’s factual. If you give me a plant I will kill it. Consider yourself warned- please don’t gift me plantlife. 

That said, my mother-in-law is here this weekend, replete with her very green thumb, and she’s graciously offered to help me figure out the landscaping situation around my yard. The whole situation has me thinking about the parallels between our garden adventure and making personal changes and working towards life goals. Here are some truths I’m learning about gardening, that are also true of self-work:


Compassion

How To Care For Yourself When Dealing With Difficult People


 

One of my friends tells her story of growing up with a mother with “issues” rather matter-of-factly, but the details are pretty grim to listen to. “She would stop talking to me for no reason, for days at a time, and put a gift on my bed when she decided she was done being mad at me. We never talked about why she was angry, and most of the time I didn’t know. I just knew not to talk to her until she left something on my bed, and then I’d hold my breath until the next time she got upset about something.” 

My friend’s mother sometimes disappeared for lengths of time without anyone knowing where she went or when (or if) she would return. When she fought with my friend’s father, she frequently brought my friend into the arguments as a mediator, despite her being a child. “Everything was about her,” my friend says. “Even as an adult, forty years later, everything is still about her.”


Compassion

Rethinking Shame As a Motivator for Change


When individuals begin to see me for therapy, it is very often because they have gotten fed up with some part of themselves that they feel needs changing, fixing, or altogether eradicating. They’ll introduce this part of themselves to me as their “stupid anxiety” or “annoying depression” or “ridiculous obsession with eating,” etcetera. They judge themselves mercilessly for whatever their perceived problem or issue is, and often report that they’ve felt judged by others for it, too. Maybe a parent remarked that they really need to “get over” themselves already, or somebody told them to “suck it up.” So, they land in my office, totally prepared to magically become different people and to get rid of whatever pesky part brought them there in the first place. They are ashamed, and they don’t like feeling that way. Nobody does. 


Be Together

For Clinicians: There’s Room For All Of Us


Fewer years ago than I’d like to admit, I was royally schooled by a client in a therapy group that I was running. Having recently been dazzled by a week-long training in Internal Family Systems (my preferred therapeutic approach), I felt it appropriate to suggest to the group members that some therapeutic approaches might have more to offer than others. While I don’t recall exactly what I said, it included some psycho-ed about IFS and CBT, with a very clear bias towards the superiority of IFS. Basically, I threw CBT under the bus. 

Many members of the group nodded enthusiastically at my proclamation, having worked with me for some time and developed a kind of loyalty to my integrated, CBT-light methods. However, after the group ended, one of the group members approached me to gently challenge me and my big mouth. As it turns out, CBT had been life-changing for her. After years of therapeutic work, she routinely used CBT skills she’d learned from a previous therapist to get through every day, and found them essential to her growth. She felt that my statement in group devalued her self-work. And, let's be fair... she wasn't wrong. 


Best Practices in Therapy

For Clinicians, The Very Best That We Can Offer to Clients is Ourselves


As clinicians, we are built from the ground up to disregard ourselves. This begins in our training process, when we are instructed on how to listen well to someone. It is made clear that we are ears, not mouths. We’re warned not to bring too much of ourselves into session with us, so as to keep a trained and steady focus on the most important story in the room: the story belonging to the client.


Be On Purpose

On Changing & Adapting: Four Ways to Nurture Healthy Relationships

Rawpixel/Pixabay

For whatever reason, psychotherapists are assumed to be masters at navigating relationships. I completely understand this assumption, since we talk about relational health and vulnerability and honesty all day, but I’ve frankly never seen it play out in real life (certainly not in my own life, anyway). Our relationships are as challenging and nuanced and messy and human as everyone else’s - and because we spend all day talking about relationships, we don’t...